Switzerland set to lift medical cannabis restrictions

The Swiss government announced today that it will lift restrictions on cannabis for medical use from August 1st 2022.

Presently, patients have to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry to be prescribed the drug, causing unnecessary delays. The decision to use a cannabis-based medicine for therapeutic purposes will now rest with the doctor, in consultation with the patient.

The Swiss parliament already agreed on an amendment to the law in March 2021 to improve access to medical cannabis, with the intention “to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients”, a statement said. The Federal Office of Public Health estimates that the new regulations will benefit thousands of people, including those with cancer or multiple sclerosis whose chronic pain can be relieved with drugs containing cannabis. Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply in Switzerland, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019 alone.

The relaxation of the rules surrounding medical cannabis in the country follows a wave of legislation changes across Europe. Mike Sassano Founder, Chairman & CEO of Somai Pharmaceuticals welcomed the move, telling leafie “Switzerland has taken another important step in improving patients’ access to cannabis by giving doctors the freedom to prescribe cannabis as a medicine. Much like Germany did in 2019, removing onerous restrictions on prescribing cannabis is sweeping the European landscape. Switzerland is taking a realistic approach to help people get properly regulated medicines and combat needing to seek out the unregulated black market cannabis products. This is a stark contrast to the UK market, which requires you to try two different therapies before the doctor can prescribe cannabis or other countries like Ireland that require you to have extremely serious ailments like stage 3 cancer or MS before receiving cannabis.”

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will, for the time being, remain prohibited. However, Switzerland already has a relaxed attitude to cannabis consumed for recreational purposes. It is estimated that around 500,000 adults in Switzerland consume cannabis and the country has already decriminalised low level possession as of 2012. Anyone caught with less than 10 grams of cannabis is not prosecuted, but instead issued with a fine of 100 Swiss Francs. The country also allows the sale of ‘light’ cannabis, containing no more than 1% THC, which can be legally bought over the counter from tobacco stores.

The country is also expected to launch a small-scale recreational trial this year, where 400 registered residents in the city of Basel will be allowed to buy cannabis legally for recreational use. The scheme has been designed to better understand “alternative regulatory forms” such as regulated sales at official vendors, according to the Federal Office of Public Health.

The recreational pilot scheme will last for 2 and a half years, during which participants will be questioned regularly to find out what effect the substance is having on their mental and physical health.